A provincial who moved to Paris in the early 1980s in the hope of becoming a photographer, Denis Dailleux had to find a job to earn a living. The timeless power of his photographs, combined with a politically engaged text by Abdellah Taïa (a French-speaking Moroccan writer and filmmaker), with whom he returned to Persan-Beaumont thirty years later, have secured this volume an important place among publications concerned with the suburbs.
Made beginning in 1987, this series of black-and-white portraits opens with an encounter on a train: “It was onboard a regional Corail train, on my way back from my village, where throughout summer I’d been photographing the residents and my great-aunt Juliette, that I met boys from the ‘Le Village’ neighborhood in Persan, a small commune in the Val-d’Oise,” says the photographer. “There were twelve of them and they had spent several days in the Sable-d’Olonne. They were walking from car to car with a tape deck blasting rap music, without anybody trying to stop them. I showed them images of Juliette and I recall that when they saw them, they said, ‘Classy!’ At that moment, I asked them if I could come and see them in their neighborhood. It was Coco who gave me his phone number. At the time, there was little talk of suburban problems, but it wasn’t without apprehension that I finally decided to give Coco a ring in the early autumn of 1987. He told me to meet him the following Sunday at the Persan-Beaumon train station. Shortly thereafter, I knew I had something. It was like a photographic revelation that authorized these kids to let go in front of my camera.”
Denis Dailleux kept coming back to Persan over five years. The long photo sessions he conducted with the neighborhood youth, even though the situation was already tense, would not be possible in the area today. In the following years, the importance of the problems faced by the suburbs received recognition and they became the subject of debates and news reports. However, as Dailleux wrote, political engagement was not at the basis of this project. “But I must admit that, at the time, more than out of political conviction, I came to do this work to save my own skin.”
Irène Attinger is head of the library and bookstore at the Maison Européenne de la Photographie in Paris.
Denis Dailleux, Persan-Beaumont
Published by Le Bec en l’air